Manitoba’s beef producers say it’s time insurance options for feed and pasture get with the times.
The Manitoba Beef Producers is chewing through a wish list of insurance changes after its fall district meetings.
Farmers in several districts are now looking for more support on alternative grazing strategies, something MBP general manager Brian Lemon says are encouraged by the province, but insufficiently integrated into insurance.
“Their insurance programs need to keep pace with the innovative practices that producers are starting to use,” he said.
Why it matters: Manitoba Beef Producers argues that the province is pushing farmers to look outside the box for better grazing techniques, but insurance has to keep pace.
The province made special mention of alternative grazing and pasture improvements in Ag Action Manitoba, the five-year funding program released this year. The program offered to cost share pasture improvements like establishing perennial forage, diversifying forage species, enhancing grazing management, fencing and labour costs to shift grazing management, alternate water sources, and improving pastures to increase soil carbon and trap greenhouse gas up to $10,000 (a quarter of which might be borne by the government).
Planned grazing, carbon sequestration and perennial crops all also appeared under the program’s resource management planning BMP, which cost shares consultation, planning, sampling and data interpretation costs for developing a resource management plan up to $15,000.
Despite this stated policy goal, however, insuring the practices has proven difficult.
“We’ve talked with MASC in the past just about the types of crops that you can insure,” Lemon said. “Increasingly, producers are using some really innovative crop mixtures and seven-way crop mixtures and eight-way polycrops.”
MASC rolled out a novel crops insurance program this year, partly to add intercropping and specialty crops insurance not outlined elsewhere. The program adjusts claims according to surrounding fields and 14 producers took out policies this year.
Lemon also used the example of bale grazing, which keeps cattle out on the field, but also heightens the risk of wildlife loss to feed.
MASC has not had the funding to put together a program on bale grazing and wildlife damages, according to David Van Deynze, MASC vice-president of innovation and product support.
Feed crops that are grown and then left in the field for either swath or bale grazing are insured until the time of harvest, he said, although loss from wildlife or deep snow keeping cattle from reaching the swath would not be insured.
The agency has not specifically looked at tailoring programs for alternative grazing, he said, although he added that, “anything is possible.”
Double the policy basis
Producers in south-central Manitoba want the chance to double down on pasture insurance.
A producer can currently insure a pasture based on other forage yield or on the number of grazed days, but not both, according to Van Deynze.
“If your forage yield does well, then we assume that your pasture yield does well and then you probably don’t get a payment through that program,” he said. “If your forage yield does poorly, well, we assume that your pastures do poorly as well and you’d get some more money.”
MASC currently asks producers to pick between the yield-based program and insurance based on the number of days cattle can graze.
A cross-section of beef producers wants the ability to opt into both.
The idea got strong traction from MBP members during a district meeting in Baldur earlier this month.
Van Deynze, however, has reservations.
“Part of the requirements we have in our program is to make sure that the coverage that we offer producers is reflective of the risk and if they are allowed, I’ll say, to opt into both of those programs, there would be some concern that they have more insurance coverage than they should in terms of what their risk is,” he said.
Overcoverage might lead to issues with the programs, which are cost shared between different levels of government, he said.
Groups like the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association have also indirectly weighed in. The group has no formal stance such as the MBP resolution, executive director Duncan Morrison said, although they acknowledge the critical role of forage insurance to the livestock sector.
“Often there are decisions that need to be made at each farm gate, for some producers there are different pressures than others based on farming practices, management and other variables,” he said. “We believe learning as much as one can about MASC’s forage insurance programs should be encouraged for all producers so they can decide how they want to proceed and what fits their own farm operations and management best.”
Looking for IPI
Other producers say they want their own history to underpin probable yields.
Producers in Deloraine lined up behind a resolution to add an IPI for corn silage, similar to what is available for other annual crops in Manitoba.
“I can get one on lentils. I can get one on pinto beans,” Curtis Gervin, the sponsor of the resolution, argued, adding that lentil and pinto bean acreage falls far short of corn silage.
“If I combine that corn, I get an IPI,” he also said.
MASC calculates IPI on a decade of previous yields, starting from two years before the current year. For crops with less than three producers in a given area, as is sometimes the case with greenfeed, MASC uses a wider region, such as all yields within a similar soil type.
MASC has periodically considered an IPI for corn silage in recent years, Van Deyze said, but is concerned with data accuracy.
Cash crop yields are more clearly reported and verified since they are sold, he said, while other feed crops are generally harvested in bales, which are easier to weigh and count.
“Any time that we do calculations that involve individual producers or set coverages, we need to be able to have a high degree of confidence in our calculation methods and the results that we produce for producers,” he said. “With silage corn, it’s just a bit of a challenge.”
The resolutions will go before MBP’s full membership during the group’s annual general meeting in February.